How Do We Help Unhealthy Adults Who Abuse Children?

Until now, I have focused the majority of my research on the “who, what, when, why and how” of child molesters. Recently, I was reading Game Over, written by Bill Moushey and Bob Dvorchak, when I stumbled upon the chapter titled “Sandusky Speaks”. The entire chapter is an account of a series of interviews that Jerry Sandusky did shortly after he was arrested on November 5, 2011 for forty counts of abuse against eight children from 1994-2009 (Sandusky was later charged with an additional eight counts in December 2011). As I was reading through the chapter I began to ask myself why Sandusky whole-heartedly believed that he was completely innocent. Did he truly believe his own words? Did he really think that he could convince everyone (or anyone, for that matter) that he had not knowingly committed the crimes that he was arrested for?

Was Jerry Sandusky really that foolish?

Bob Costas, right, talks on the phone with Jerry Sandusky during this NBC interview on November 14,2011. To Costas’ left is Sandusky’s lawyer, Joseph Amendola.

Below read various highlights from a November 14, 2011 interview on NBC with host Bob Costas, Jerry Sandusky, and his lawyer, Joseph Amendola. It is important at this point to note that normally criminal defense lawyers do not render much information on their clients before trial, but Amendola wanted to direct a “public frontal assault” against the prosecutors and the accusers who brought the charges against Sandusky. Only minutes before the interview was slated to begin, Amendola revealed to Costas that some of the young men listed in the grand jury presentment would testify that Sandusky had not violated them. Then he surprisingly asked Costas if he would like to interview Jerry Sandusky. This all happened so close to airtime that NBC didn’t have much time to promote the interview.

Costas opens the interview bluntly:

“Mr. Sandusky, there’s a forty-count indictment. The Grand Jury report contains specific detail. There are multiple accusers, multiple eyewitnesses to various aspects of the abuse. A reasonable person says where there’s this much smoke, there must be plenty of fire. What do you say?”

Sandusky replied, also bluntly: “I say that I am innocent of those charges.”

Later, Costas asks: “Are you denying that you had any inappropriate sexual contact with any of these underage boys?”

Sandusky: “(After a bit of hesitation) I, yes, yes, I am.”

Of the 2002 incident from the shower of the Lasch Football Building at Penn State, Costas asks: “What did happen in the shower the night that Mike McQueary happened upon you and the young boy?”

Sandusky’s less than confident response was: “Okay, we-we were showering and-and horsing around. And he actually turned all the showers on and was-actually sliding-across the-floor. And we were-as I recall possibly like snapping a towel, horseplay.”

Later in the interview, Sandusky has denied all of the counts of abuse that Costas has brought up for conversation, so Costas pressed on and asked: “It seems that if all of these accusations are false, you are the unluckiest and most persecuted man that any of us has ever heard about.”

Sandusky laughed and said that these hadn’t been the best days of his life, “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

Sandusky took a break and Costas turned his attention to Amendola, asking (and challenging) him if he would ever allow his own children to be alone with Sandusky. Amendola answered without hesitation: “Absolutely. I believe in Jerry’s innocence.” Costas then asked Sandusky if Joe Paterno had ever spoken to him about the allegations regarding his behavior and Jerry said he [Paterno] never had.

Costas pressed Sandusky a bit harder, asking him about his involvement in the unfolding scandal, saying: “Do you feel guilty? Do you feel as if it’s your fault?”

Sandusky replied: “Guilty? No, I don’t think it’s my fault. I obviously played a part in this.” He then said: “… I-you know, I shouldn’t have showered with those kids. You know.”

When Costas flat out asked Sandusky if he was a pedophile Sandusky simply replied no. But, when Costas asked Sandusky if he was sexually attracted to young boys, to underage boys, Sandusky’s reply was: “Sexually attracted, you know, I enjoy young people. I love to be around them. But no, I’m not sexually attracted to young people.”

The interview ended and immediately the internet and social media blew up with people wondering why in the world Amendola would allow Sandusky to take and answer unprepared questions related to the allegations against him on national television. Consequently, the most puzzling part of the interview was why it took Sandusky so long to answer the question about sexually desiring young boys. When asked during a New York Times interview two weeks later why he did not quickly and directly answer the question, Sandusky responded: “I’m sitting there saying, ‘What in the world is this question?’ If I say, ‘No, I’m not attracted to boys,’ that’s not the truth, because I’m attracted to young people-boys, girls.” To which Amendola chimed in: “Yeah, but not sexually,”

I think the basis of me writing this piece and pointing out key parts of the NBC interview can be best summed by Marci Hamilton, CEO and Academic Director at CHILD USA, whom is also a lawyer and expert in child abuse cases:

“The beauty of this was the once he began talking about taking showers with children, anyone who listened would see he doesn’t get it, that’s he’s so deeply involved in the world of child abuse and his own narcissism that he has an inability to understand how his message plays out with healthy adults. It is very typical [of child predators].”

I have already uncovered that Jerry Sandusky liked himself a lot and thought very highly of his abilities; so being called a narcissist by Ms. Hamilton did not really surprise me. But, could that personality trait really have shaded his ability to recognize that his behavior towards children was unhealthy?

I began to ask myself another question: Is it possible, once identified, to help unhealthy adults and stop them from committing acts of crime against children before getting to extreme that the Jerry Sandusky case did? From my prior research, we already know how difficult it actually is to identify a child molester — both in terms of the general public and for the purpose of presenting charges in a criminal investigation. But, my hope is that the general public is becoming more educated than ever before in identifying potential child molesters. In a best case scenario, these individuals would be identified, and even if charges could not yet be done for whatever reason, they could still be mandated to some type of counseling to help their condition.

I think all of the cases that I have studied show a similar pattern: Because of how long investigations take to complete and then execute, the accused child molester has been given the opportunity to live their lives almost fully uninterrupted and, thus, almost always has the opportunity to keep committing crimes. How, as a society, do we find the middle-ground where we can continue to investigate and look for clues to strengthen the case, but also try and help the individuals who so badly need it, yet fail to recognize there is anything wrong with them in the first place?

I am not sure there is an easy answer to this or any of the questions I’ve presented today. I do hope to come up with solutions to examine in the future. I find it hard to believe I am the only person who has ever asked these questions before.

We can make our homes and communities safer for our children, but we are going to have to work for it, otherwise the child molesters will continue to outwork us and commit these horrible crimes.


Part II: The Lolita Effect – A Prevalent Worldwide Phenomenon & How It Affects Our Lives

The bottom line is that we live in an increasingly sex-saturated society, while lacking the ability to talk about children and sex in a measured or meaningful way. I was ill-informed as a child in all aspects of sex. My parents and the schools I went to lacked the knowledge to effectively teach me. Growing up I knew what sex was. But I didn’t know what sex was — and the implications it could have physically and psychologically on my life.

6262006It may be because of this lack of knowledge, or pertaining attitude, that the United States has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies, births and abortions, and the highest incidence of adolescent STDs in the industrialized world. To better combat these issues in the future I believe we need to have a better and more comprehensive sex education in school with a greater access to contraception. We need to develop more coordination between the medical and educational fields. Gender roles, power and interpersonal communication all need to be addressed more extensively.

Dr. Meenakshi Gigi Durham says it best:

“Sex is complicated and emotionally fraught; it is intriguing; it can feel pleasurable and transgressive, but it carriers consequences and risks that young children are not well prepared to recognize or handle.”

There should not be any shame in addressing sex to children at a young age. If our children are better prepared to deal with the complexities involved, then they will be more likely to engage in less risky behavior during adolescence.

The Lolita Effect robs many young children of the pleasure that is pure sensuous, self-adorning, and self-confident. It is the cause of many phenomenons, including eating disorders, dating violence, teen pregnancy, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Some children can move past these experiences and live fulfilling lives as adults, but others are not so lucky and they suffer significant, long-term, and devastating effects.

I’ll leave you all with this quote to ponder:

“In an ideal culture,” writes the psychologist Mary Pipher, ” sexual decisions should be the result of intentional choices.”

Part I: The Lolita Effect – A Prevalent Worldwide Phenomenon & How It Affects Our Lives

Lolita is a bone chilling novel written by Vladimir Nabokov that dates back to 1950’s Russia. Today, Lolita is still the centerpiece for what is widely known as the first published work that involves the topic of incest. The novel is a piece of classic art. Because of the success of Lolita, it has been used as a learning device for many professionals, including Meenakshi Gigi Durham, whom wrote the book The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and Five Keys to Fixing It.

Lolita, the novel, is the story of a middle-aged man who is obsessed with a twelve-year-old, and later becomes sexually involved with her after he becomes her stepfather. “Lolita” is the nickname Humbert Humbert gives to Delores Haze.

Think about this: Lolita was written in 1955. 1955! Fast forward and it is now 2017. 2017!

I am boggled by the lack of urgency in 2017 to tackle these issues given how we now live in a world where girls who get involved in grown-up eroticism begin at younger and younger ages. Girls these days are encouraged to become involved in the sphere of fashion, images, and activities that exploit sexuality.

Here are some really eye-opening examples of what I am talking about, according to Durham:

  • Abercrombie & Fitch once sold thong underwear for preteens. The seductive slogans on the thongs included Wink, Wink and Eye Candy.
  • My faaaavorite store, Wal-Mart, sold panties for teenage girls that said Who needs credit cards…?…. on the crotch.
  • The British chain, BHS, was once selling an an entire line of push-up bras and lacy briefs to preteens called Little Miss Naughty. If the British are involved, then we know things are out of hand. They are supposed to be the good guys.
  • Another British entity, Tesco, once sold a Peekaboo Pole Dancing kit. This was a toy… promoting sex. Unbelievable.
  • The last point involves the tale of one of the most polarizing pop culture figure in America, Ms. Miley Cyrus. When Miley was fifteen, she caused an uproar from people who believed she was too young to be so seductive. At the time, Miley was a young teen sensation and role-model. She played the innocent character of Hannah in Disney’s Hannah Montana. When she  posed topless for Vanity Magazine questions and eyebrows were raised.
    Then 15-year-old Miley Cyrus poses topless for Vanity Magazine. She would receive much criticism for the photo.
    Then fifteen-year-old Miley Cyrus poses topless for Vanity Magazine. She would receive much criticism for the photo.

    Is a fifteen-year-old actually capable of distinguishing the difference between seductive and not? Was Miley yet capable of knowing the type of reaction the photo would cause worldwide?

We have already discussed in length the difficulty children have when it comes to saying no to an older and more powerful adult. I believe Miley was too young to understand the impact this photo would cause. And even if she had her own self-doubts (she later said she was “embarrassed” by the photo) she was probably told how great the photo looked and the amazing things the photo would do for her then-budding career.

Remember: this is the same Miley Cyrus who said she did not swear (skip ahead to 25:00) the first time she was interviewed by Barbara Walters as a “Most Fascinating Person” in 2008.

Whatever your take on Miley  may be, remember how she might have been negatively influenced when she was younger. Even famous people can be influenced. Miley is a classic public example of this sphere of fashion that girls are being infiltrated by as young as three-years-old.

Lolita is a reminder that there is some sort of public acknowledgement that a preteen girl could be sexual. Here’s Durham’s take on the subject:

“One reason for our fascination with the sexy little girl is her tricky double role in a contemporary society – she is simultaneously a symbol of female empowerment and the embodiment of a chauvinistic “beauty myth”. She invokes the specter of pedophilia while kindling the prospect of potent female sexuality.”

Clearly there is a bold focus on an incestuous liaison between grown men and little girls. That is what has made Lolita the character into a fantasy figure. Sadly, we do not see her as a sexually abused and tragic figure in the novel.

As Durham so eloquently reminds us, Lolita has become our favorite metaphor for a child vixen. Lolita was a sexual character. However, Lolita was not allowed to experience her sexuality in a safe and ethical direction of her own choosing. Instead, her sexual appeal was imposed on her in ways that suited Humbert’s needs and vision. She was raped and victimized, and she was deprived of her childhood.

Lolita, in truth, is a cautionary tale.

Turning a Blind Eye Towards Child Abuse Can Help Foster A Dangerous Social Climate

Sadly, the American society fails to make its’ children a priority. For example, a number of professionals believe that teaching children awareness of child sexual abuse is sexually abusive. Proponents to this delusional theory compare it to teaching children to look both ways before crossing the street, which does not create excessive fear about roads and traffic.

Typically, when kids report inappropriate touching, they are not believed, told to quit making up stories, and generally ignored. It would not be crazy for a child to think that, in order to actually get adults to believe they have been molested, they actually have to have seen molestation occur. By that time it is, obviously, too late for the victim, and the adult has let the safety of a child go to the back burner once again.

Here is Dr. Carla van Dam’s take:

“In no other area of child safety do adults put the onus of responsibility on children. Children are expected to look both ways before crossing the street, but adults take on the task of establishing traffic laws and ensuring that they are enforced. When traffic laws are violated, the adult community assumes responsibility for ending these violations, Yet, in the case of child sexual abuse, adults unthinkingly and unintentionally abdicate responsibility and even seem blind to improprieties that should alert them. Then, when children or their supporters describe problems, the adult community will typically blame the messenger and strongly defend the accused.”

It may seem strange, but it is true that societal responses to reports of child sexual abuse often include blaming the victim. This creates a potentially dangerous social climate that enables abusers now and in the future, and further implicates and endangers potential victims.


The gap between the responsibility the adult community has to protect children needs to bridge closer with the responsibility children have to protect themselves. We cannot expect one group to protect the other. Both groups need to do their part and that is essential to a conscious effort of overall protection in society.

Think of it this way: Were child sexual abuse a physical disease such as cancer, then the prevalence of data alone would classify it as an epidemic. Child sexual abuse may not be a contagious disease, but it spreads and flourishes when coupled with secrecy, isolation, and confusion.

Child Molestation: Who Does It? What Is The Harm? & The Need For Clarity

Until more recently it was widely assumed that a molester was a single man who could easily be identified by his unsavory looks and unshaven appearance. He would lurk in the shadows and grab children one-by-one. Many families believed they could protect their children by teaching them not to talk to strangers. Recent studies show, however, that molesters whom commit these heinous crimes are most often a person a child knows and not a stranger.

The age of the internet and social media has connected the country’s news cycle more than ever before. We are all now well aware that it is not only men who molest children, but just as many women partake in these crimes. Unfortunately, even in the twenty first century, societal attitudes towards women make disclosures about female molesters less likely. As noted by Dr. Carla van Dam:

“… boys prematurely sexualized by an older female are traditionally considered ‘lucky.'”

Highline School District teacher Mary Kay Letourneau is seen in this Fall 1996 school photo. (ABC News)

Another bizarre molestation case involves Mary Kay Letourneau . Letourneau became a media sensation in the late 1990’s as the public grappled with the seeming puzzlement of an attractive, successful, married teacher and mother of four charged with the sexual assault of her student, Vili Fualaau, who was in sixth grade. But in a strange twist, Fualaau’s mother became Letourneau’s ally and advocate; she blessed the sexual relationship between her son and this adult more the three times his age. Her son was robbed of his childhood and prematurely became the father of two infant daughters.

Letourneau and Fualaau are now married. Some of you may be confused by this. Some of you may ask why Letourneau went to jail for numerous years if her and Fualaau were “in love”. The Letourneau story is about as bizarre as they come. Here is a relatively simple explanation about why her and Fualaau were never, and can never be, “in love”.

According to van Dam’s research:

“For true consent to occur, two conditions must prevail. A person must know what it is that her or she is consenting to, and a person must be free to say yes or no.”

Neither of these conditions applied when Letourneau started becoming sexually involved with Fualaau. Her grooming process started when the boy was in second grade. Consensual conditions can never occur between any child and an older, more knowledgeable and powerful adult. When adults consider sexual interactions with a child, they automatically enter into an exploitative relationship with the child, meeting their personal needs and agendas, rather than attending to the child’s best interests.

Another psychological explanation says:

“Sexual abuse is a violation of a trust relationship with unequal power and/or advanced knowledge (and) the need for secrecy (and) sexual activity.”

Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau at their ABC interview with Barbara Walters, April 2105.

Fualaau became so brainwashed by Letourneau that he married the woman. That is how dangerous perpetrators such as Mary Kay Letourneau can be.

So, again, we come to the “need for clarity” when it comes to how to a). identify child molesters and b). educate and protect our children not to enter into potentially dangerous situations with these people. People’s views on what constitutes child sexual abuse often differ, which may prevent them from responding appropriately and with the necessary certainty.

There are many reasons for this thinking. Why?

  1. There are too many gray areas that implies nothing more should be done — this includes all parties involved.
  2. This is a crazy one: in no criminal case is an understanding of events primarily determined by soliciting explanations from the accused person.
  3. This ties in with number one: Doing nothing condones child sexual abuse, without even knowing so.

Dr. Diana Russell sums up the confusion perfectly:

“There is no consensus among researchers and practitioners about what sex acts constitute sexual abuse, what age defines children, nor even when the concept of child sexual abuse is preferable to others such as sexual victimization, sexual exploitation, sexual assault, sexual misuse, child molestation, sexual maltreatment, or child rape… Cases in which children are raped or otherwise sexually abused by their peers, younger children, or children less than five years older than themselves are often discounted as instances of child sexual abuse.”

And van Dam puts a bow on the confusion by saying:

“The failure to recognize each identified instance as, in all likelihood, representing a larger pattern is “the second largest societal blind spot,” which “sex offenders themselves have little reason to emphasize.”

Obviously, there is no clear definition so there needs to be a zero tolerance policy when it comes to potential molesters. Typically we respond to such uncertainty and discomfort by blocking it out altogether. It is imperative to remember that sexual abuse does not necessarily mean sexual intercourse.

The next time you find yourself dealing with an individual who has nonverbal mannerisms or gimmicks, or has dramatic hand movements, and so on, and they tend to overwhelm you, close your eyes or look away. But do not stop there. Start to carefully listen to what the person is saying. For it is there that you might find a clue that will lead you to better identify danger right in front of you.

Why Adults Cannot Identify Child Molesters

There are many obstacles  when it comes to accurately identifying child molesters, but the obstacles begin with adults. Children rely on their elders for guidance and protection. When an adult is fooled by an abuser then the child is rendered defenseless.

It is, obviously, not entirely adults who are at fault. Monsters who molest children follow no particular pattern in regards to their age, sex, and occupation, although they seem to choose lifestyles giving them access to children. It is extremely difficult to identify a child molester. However, it is the adults responsibility to be aware of emerging signs and patterns of a potential child molester.

This is all easier said than done. Take for example the case of a man who was voted “Citizen of the Year” before being convicted on a number of molestation charges. This individual was in charge of running the annual community fair and he used young students to run the booths. Despite the eventual convictions against the man, the community whose children he molested appealed to the courts for a temporarily release to run the fair again.

Bizarre, but it points mainly to confusion and denial amongst the adult population.

In another case, a Canadian teacher was accused of molesting children at numerous schools during the 1970’s-1980’s. How did this man get away with molesting for so long and at so many different places?  Because the police departments involved decided to treat each case as an isolated incident. This teacher was essentially getting a glowing letter of recommendation to facilitate a move to another district. In every community, therapists working with him knew about his sexual activities, but kept quiet despite legal obligations to report their knowledge. School district personnel also failed to report what they knew to the police, as each complaint they heard was also handled separately.

To recap: Every single time someone encountered indications of sexual abuse involving the teacher, they assumed the information reflected only an isolated instance, encouraged everyone involved to keep quiet, and feared a libel suit from the teacher should they discuss his tendencies.

That is some extreme negligence.

Here is an amazing quote from a mother who had a child abused. These cases can get so twisted that at one point she thought she was being unreasonably crazy, saying:

“Maybe I’m making a big deal about it. I don’t feel that we’ve been taken seriously. In some peoples minds we’ve made a big deal about nothing. They tell us, “It was just little boys,” and “It only happened for four months.” You get the feeling, not from what is said, but from what is not said, that, one, your son did something wrong, and, two, you’re making a big deal of it. You get this not only from the school system, but when you talk to other parents, or your doctor, and you begin to believe, ” Maybe I should shut up. Maybe it’s not a big deal.” Then you think, “Damn it. My kid did not do anything to have this happen to him (van Dam).”

As a child I would not have known how to handle a situation involving molestation. Nobody ever talked about it to me growing up. Not my parents, not my teachers, not my coaches — nobody with an authority figure ever addressed this issue to me. I knew not to talk to strangers, get in their car, take candy, etc. But that was about the extent of it. I am grateful I never encountered a situation that remotely felt like molestation on any level.

Some kids are not so lucky.

Before I began advocating, I’m not sure I knew enough about molesters to say I could have, hypothetically, as a father, been able to educate my own kids on how to identify molesters and what to do if they were ever encountered a situation of molestation with another adult. That is a scary thought because I feel like there are a lot of actual parents out there who feel the exact same way. Their biggest fear is their child(ren) being taken advantage of by an adult. They fear for a number of reasons, but maybe the biggest reason is because they themselves do not know how to even begin to go about diving into the topic of molestation.

side-bannerThere are ways to end molestation in our communities. The education starts with the adults. They cannot be confused or in denial when it comes to the safety of so many children. They cannot accept to live like past generations. This needs to be an issue that is addressed as soon as a child is competent enough to realize the implications involved.

Remember that sexual abuse, for the abuser, is not about sex. Instead, it is an expression of the need for power and control taken out in a sexual manner. That should be our basis for identification. If we remember that, then we can more accurately begin to identify molesters.

Sexual Crimes Against Children Have Risen To Epidemic Rates

Of all the serious harms that could come to a child, sexual abuse is the most common.

There are a number of factors that play into the continual rise of this horrifying crime made by adults. For example, there are more mothers working than at any point in our country’s history, and the need to put children in day care facilities where they are more prone to attack than ever before. The same can be said about divorce –children are now at a higher risk of being abused by their stepparents. Finally, due mainly to the aforementioned factors, adults who were molested as children are now doing the molesting themselves.

Fact: The more children that are molested, the higher the risk for the trend to continue to get worse.

Here are a few stats to mull over:

  1. One in three girls and one in six boys will have sexual contact with an adult.
  2. The average molester of girls will have about fifty victims before being caught and convicted, while the average molester of boys will have on average one hundred and fifty victims before being caught and convicted.
  3. Molesting doesn’t stop for abusers once they are caught. In fact, there are reports that say most molesters will have as many as three hundred victims during their “careers”.
  4. The epidemic of child abuse has now reached over one-fourth of the American population.

In the past three decades there has been a significant amount of documentation regarding child abuse, but there is still very little reputable, and maybe more importantly, helpful literature, for the public to educate themselves on. So when a case is reported in the popular press people are left to wonder how it could have happened. Parents, teachers and friends are questioned as to how they were so ignorant about an abuser right in front of their faces. More notably, most people assume an abuser is a person who could not be likable when in reality that assumption is actually the complete opposite.

Or there is the phrase that people think of whenever a major and traumatic event rocks America: It would never happen here [where I live].


The over-assuming and smug individuals are the same people who cannot get past how any reasonable adult could have entrusted the care of children to a sexual predator.

Dr. Carla van Dam is the author of the book Identifying Child MolestersHere is her take:

“The topic of child sexual abuse frequently engenders extreme views and emotional reactivity that only helps to distract everyone from the primary concern of creating safer environments for children.”


Child abuse is an epidemic, folks. Protecting children should be something every American believes in and wants to fight their hardest for.